Syria's military shows signs of division amid crackdown
Some soldiers reportedly refused to open fire against civilians in Deraa today, sparking clashes between units. A divided military could prove the undoing of Assad's regime.
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Four military officers assassinated
The Arabic Al-Jazeera news channel reported that some soldiers were objecting to firing on civilians and that clashes had broken out between separate Army units in Deraa. The minority Alawite sect – a Shiite offshoot – forms the backbone of the regime and controls the Army and intelligence apparatus in Syria, but the Army’s ranks are mainly composed of Sunnis.Skip to next paragraph
It has been widely speculated that if troops are ordered to use increasing force against civilian protesters, cracks may emerge – possibly along sectarian lines – within the military which could have far-reaching consequences for the durability of the regime.
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In the early stages of the uprising in Deraa, a soldier from the Sunni city of Homs was allegedly shot dead for refusing to open fire on protesters. Since then, there have been numerous unverified reports of soldiers and even senior officers being shot for refusing to obey orders.
Last week, Gen. Abdo Khodr Tellawi from Homs was killed with his two sons and a nephew. The Syrian state-run SANA news agency claimed that “armed criminal gangs … killed them in cold blood.” But opposition activists say that the Syrian intelligence services executed them because they were showing signs of sympathy for the protesters.
Alawite military and intelligence officers are generally expected to stand with the regime, fearing a bloody backlash against them should Assad fall. But the Alawite community is not a homogenous entity and there are longstanding tensions between rival clans which could witness some powerful Alawite figures siding with the opposition against the Assads.
Leaked Syria document approves the killing of army officers
Radwan Ziadeh, the director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, blamed the killings on the Air Force Intelligence directorate, which spearheaded the crackdown 30 years ago on the Muslim Brotherhood and is generally considered the most powerful intelligence agency in Syria.
Mr. Ziadeh said the regime's blaming “armed gangs” for the spate of assassinations of military officers was in line with the recommendations of a document obtained by opposition activists last week that purports to be written by the Syrian General Intelligence department. The document, dated March 23, when the protests were just beginning, lists propaganda, security, and political measures to be adopted by the security forces. The validity of the document could not be confirmed.
The document said, “It is acceptable to shoot some of the security agents or army officers in order to further deceive the enemy, which will further help the situation by provoking the animosity of the army against the protesters.”
“These shootings are the second stage of the intelligence document,” says Ziadeh. “Maybe we will soon see the third stage, which was the bombing of churches and mosques to stir up sectarian tensions. The regime’s message is either stability with us, or chaos.”